While Sandinista media outlets employ superlatives to laud the transparency, orderliness and godliness of today’s electoral process, a group of citizen activists has taken the initiative to chronicle voters’ complaints.
So far the elections have been conducted peacefully and—by most accounts—fluidly. But the process hasn’t been quite as impeccable as the government claims
“We are registering and archiving all reports of irregularities in an effort to demand electoral transparency,” says Marlia Avendaña, coordinator of “citizen information center for voter complaints.” “We decided to reinforce this electoral process as civil society; we can’t afford to watch from the sidelines and let these elections happen on their own.”
Avendaña is a youth activist with the movement Nicaragua 2.0, which is working in conjunction with civic group Movement for Nicaragua, the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM) and various other civil society organizations to answer phones, field emails and monitor social media networks for reports of irregularities. The reports, once vetted with independent election observers, are published on the group’s website: www.voto2011.com.
The complaints are varied and numerous, Avendaña says. Many voters have complained that their voting stations opened late, and in Matagalpa—where bouts of pre-electoral violence erupted last night— voters are complaining they have to vote in plain view of Sandinista poll watchers, in violation of the right to a secret vote.
However, Avendaña says, the most common complaint this morning is that ballots—in numerous voting stations— are not being signed and registered by poll monitors, which government opponents fear could set the stage for a last minute switcheroo before the ballots are counted.
According to electoral law, the president of the voting station—or any of the other two official representatives—is supposed to sign each ballot and number it with a code before allowing citizens to vote. The signature on the back of the ballot makes it official, and the code indicates where the ballot was cast. Avendaña says many citizens are complaining that their ballots are not being signed, raising fears about the veracity of rumors that the Sandinistas are going to try to swap ballots before the final tally (The Sandinistas conducted a mock election last weekend to instruct their supporters how to vote using the new ballots. Since then, rumors have been circulating that those Sandinista ballots, all of which were supposed to have watermarks identifying them as dummies, will be swapped with the real ballots before the final vote count).
Roberto Rivas, president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), is downplaying the criticism. He insists that the ballots are valid with only one signature. Rivas, sounding more like a Sandinista operative than an impartial electoral magistrate, lashed out at the opposition Independent Liberal Party (PLI) for “promoting disorder” and trying to discredit the electoral process. Rivas also criticized media outlets for reporting the PLI’s complaints of irregularities.
But the PLI aren’t the only ones complaining. Avendaña says her organization of 50 volunteers will meet with other civil society groups at 2 pm to compare notes and release their first communiqué about today’s electoral process.
The Sandinistas, meanwhile, are pulling out all the stops to win today’s vote—even importing votes from abroad, according to one witness. The Nicaragua Dispatch has learned that 18 planes carrying 2,200 Nicaraguans living in Cuba arrived in Managua last night (allegedly paid for by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez) to reinforce the Sandinista vote in the polls.